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Residential Tenancies, Housing and Social Services Regulation Amendment (Administration and Other Matters) Bill 2022

Sep 4, 2022 | Advocacy, Homelessness, News, Parliament

What a great speech to follow. I rise to speak on the Residential Tenancies, Housing and Social Services Regulation Amendment (Administration and Other Matters) Bill 2022. I have stood many times in this place and said the words ‘Housing First’, because this truth must be acknowledged if we are to address the housing crisis faced by Victorians today. The public housing waitlist in Victoria has increased by 55 per cent in only the last five years. We have 54 945 households waiting to access public housing. These are individuals who have already been approved, their situation has been assessed and we have already decided they are in serious need of public housing, yet we cannot provide it to them. We have mothers escaping domestic violence sleeping in their cars with their kids. We have people with addictions who want help but every day face the challenges of sleeping rough. I had a constituent come to my office only the other day who has been sitting on a priority waitlist for over a year and has heard nothing. He is 75 years of age and he is couch surfing. Housing First—but this is not often the case. While the general public get the short end of the stick, property developers rake in millions of dollars. Yes, this government has committed to the Big Housing Build, part of which is being legislated in this bill today, and I do not want to underestimate the enormity of the Big Housing Build. It is a magnificent project, but I see this as a foundation from where we are going to move forward. The Big Housing Build promises to build 12 000 social and affordable homes for Victorians, which is a fantastic effort and the first time in this country.

I was in Scotland recently, and their government has committed to 10 times this amount. They want to build 110 000 affordable homes over the next 10 years. Seventy per cent of these will be social housing. Since 2007 Scotland has built 108 000 affordable homes, with the majority of these for social rent. Keeping in mind their population is slightly smaller than Victoria’s, that is a commitment. The Scottish system is focused on the rights of tenants. Landlords can only increase rent once a year, and if it is considered too much the tenant can report it to a rental officer. Tenants are formally engaged and consulted. Twenty-three per cent of all homes in Scotland are classified as social housing. Around half of this stock is held by local authorities and councils and the other half held by registered social landlords.

Residential Tenancies, Housing & Social Services Reg Amendment (Admin & Other Matters) Bill 2022

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We know the housing crisis can be resolved. In Victoria we see time and time again housing being subject to planning only at the next election cycle. That has to stop. We are still to hear the government’s plans for after the Big Housing Build, where we are still expected to be far behind the national average of social dwellings, which is at 4.5 per cent. In Scotland they have conscientiously implemented a system of inclusionary housing, something we only see occasionally in Victoria. It may be 40 per cent of a housing project, and they get funding from the banks for the rest of it. The property is then built and run by one of the many housing associations, who ensure they offer social and affordable housing to vulnerable cohorts. We need to be looking at models like this in Victoria.

I am not sure that some of the strategies employed by the Big Housing Build rollout are doing the very best that we can do for the Victorian public, but we are doing something. ‘Social housing’ is a term often used to describe both public housing and community housing. The increased use of the term ‘social housing’ to describe such initiatives as the Big Housing Build is masking a general decline in the amount of truly public housing available. What we have seen reported recently is that the government is selling off land that has been 100 per cent dedicated to public housing—so directed particularly at vulnerable cohorts—and is allowing developers to provide a mix of social and affordable housing. This means that we are technically increasing the number of social and affordable dwellings but losing public housing property and selling off public land. This is not a win. Clearly the close to 55 000 households on our public housing waitlist are losing out.

Housing must be our first priority. Everything else is great, but if an individual does not have a safe and secure house over their head, they will face immense challenges. A long-term 10-, 20-, 30-year commitment is what we need and what Victorians deserve. Our population is getting older, and it is getting bigger. Rents are only increasing, the cost of living keeps going up, and we are not prepared. We have the capacity and the resources to end homelessness, so we need to make a decision as a community that this has to end. Housing is a human right. I commend this bill to the house.

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